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Florence and Emilia Romagna: We Ate, We Cooked, We Drank (and Shopped)

#1
By Pokey from MA, Spring 2009
I return to Florence and then embark on a Food Lover's Gastronomic Tour of Emilia Romagna with my friend ColleenK. We are foodies and love to eat, drink, shop, and mostly laugh!

This trip report was originally posted on SlowTrav.

Day 1, April 26th/27th. I'm so Happy to Be in Florence Again!

Sunday, April 26th

After a very cold and snowy winter and miserable, wet spring, I leave Boston on a sunny day, high 80’s. Perfect. Ride to airport easy, quick, and arrived at Logan with all the needed documents. I am early to the Lufthansa desk, easy check in and seat assignment. I was the only one going through security so that was a breeze. The TSA agent did ask to check my shoes by putting them under a different machine. I think she simply wanted to see what style they were but was too embarrassed to ask. Privo MaryJanes. Cute.

Terminal E at Logan needs better restaurant choices. Houlihan’s is the only restaurant there as far as I know. I enjoyed a glass of Chardonnay (they were out of Pinot Grigio). I chatted with three ladies who were embarking on their first trip to Italy. I offered to take their photo so they’d have one to say “this is where the fun began.” One of the three, Kim, would be celebrating her 60th birthday in a few days in Venice.

The flight to Frankfurt was uneventful. I took a half an Ambien and was able to doze off for about four hours. Arrival in Frankfurt, where I met up with the Boston gals, was easy, a quick pass through Passport Control. We headed down the stairs where we found a bathroom and a Starbucks.

I had a five hour layover so after coffee and saying goodbye to the gals, I decided to try out my Priority Pass card, which I received from Citibank. I had printed out the lounges available at Frankfurt airport and decided that the American Airlines Admirals Club Lounge was my best bet as I was now in Terminal 1. I rang the bell and walked into a beautiful reception area with a very kind receptionist. I handed her my card, she “swiped” it through a machine and Voila! I entered airport Nirvana. Now, I know many of you do this all of the time, but this was a first for me. I was so pleased that I made the choice to give it a whirl. With about four hours to spare, I couldn’t imagine killing time in the regular terminal. I had coffee, cokes, water, fruit, a croissant. I took advantage of their free Internet access and took a shower. WOW. It was worth the $27.00 (which was charged to my CitiBank card 2 1/2 months later). I felt so refreshed!!

I allowed myself enough time to get to my connecting gate (I had to go through security again although I could keep my stylin’ shoes on). I boarded a bus, which took me to my connecting flight. The ride lasted forever! I thought the bus was driving me to Florence. Flight to Florence smooth, got my luggage and a taxi and I was on my way! Taxi from FLR airport to Florence “centro” is €20,00.

This would be my fourth time staying at Residenza Il Carmine. Lots of hugs and kisses with Miriam and Caterina. I had expected to stay in Mirra apartment but once again, these lovely people upgraded me into the large Domus apartment. I was so happy and couldn't wait for Colleen to arrive on Thursday to see our lovely "digs." I gave Miriam a gift, which I brought with me, a beautiful handmade ceramic sign with Residenza Il Carmine on it. (Thank you "namasteworks" at ETSY.com). I also brought the family a jar of maple syrup and pancake mix. They enjoyed this very much too!!

After relaxing and unpacking a bit, I made my way to the SITA bus station, which is located about 100 yards west of the train station, on Via Santa Caterina da Siena. If you “googlemap” the address you will see exactly the entrance you need! I did manage to make a 15 minute walk become a 45 minute walk because I am directionally challenged and I was very tired. I’m happy that I did this trial “walk” today rather than tomorrow when I was taking the bus to Panzano. Also, I had the incorrect departure time so, again, happy that I took care of the bus issue ahead of time. I went ahead and bought my one way ticket to Panzano, cost €3,50.

I then stopped into one of my favorite gift shops Galletti, Borgognissanti, 62R. My sister asked me to pick up two Murano glass rings, similar to one she bought there in October 2007. The same super-friendly and helpful salesladies were there. After mentioning that my sister and I were there before, the one lady said “Yes, I remember, she gave me a pink flamingo pen and you gave me a Boston key chain.” How crazy awesome is that? And people ask me why I love Italy so much!!! Each ring is wrapped like a work of art. Galletti is just a block or so from Colleen’s favorite store, Ceramiche Rampini Borgo Ognissanti, 34. See, they’re practically neighbors.

I found my way back to Ponte alla Carraia and stopped into “my” Magi Market where I picked up a few things for the apartment. I always buy a (plastic) 200g jar of Roberts Borotalco, my favorite “baby powder.” I paid €2.18. I can buy it online for US$13.00!!

I also bought coffee, milk and wine (a delicious Vernaccia Di San Gimignano 2007, Bosco Ai Salici for €5.48.

Back to the apartment where I freshened up and then walked one block to my “go-to” trattoria, Da Ginone at Via de’ Serragli 35r. This is my fourth time eating here and I am guaranteed a delicious home style meal with friendly service. Massimo recognized me immediately (he called out “Boston”) and we hugged. The owner and cook, Nola was there and she loved my Keen Saratoga shoes. She asked me to please write down the name and style as she would get them in Canada on her next vacation. I felt totally at ease dining alone. I enjoyed a glass of the house white. For my meal, the special was lasagna; meat sauce, béchamel, and (as Massimo described it) a “few floors” of pasta. How cute is that?

I headed back to Il Carmine and took a shower, Miriam came over later and we had a nice chat and I paid her my share of the apartment. I will add here that normally they do not have guests arrive or depart on Sunday as they have no maid service, but they were kind enough to let Colleen and I stay the extra night and leave Sunday morning. The “Mindy special.” Did I mention how much I love this family?

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Il Carmine sign
 
#2
Day 2, April 28th. Panzano & Chiocchio, My SlowTrav Friends & the Maestro of Meat

I found my way to the SITA bus station and located the stall which my bus would be leaving from. TV monitors show departures and stall numbers. Easy. I validated my ticket and hopped on the bus “Gus”. Not crowded at all. I chatted with a young man who works in Greve at a Pizzeria. He takes this bus every day to work.

As suggested by Rita (of Rita and Lino fame) I sat on the right hand side of the bus. As the bus headed south down the “Karen Valentine highway”, SR 222, the views were gorgeous. This was my first time to visit Italy in the Spring so I enjoyed the flowers blooming and grape vines in their beginning stages. Irises, wisteria, poppies and lilacs.

The bus made many stops along the way. I realized we were in Panzano only because everyone got off the bus except me. The driver looked at me and I quickly put two and two together. Duh. I had about 1 1/2 hours to roam around until I would meet up with Claudia (FurKidsMom) and Pamela Sheldon Johns. I went into the local bar and had a doppio espresso.

My shoes (Keen Saratoga) were giving me blisters (I was not wearing socks) so I needed desperately to find band-aids. I usually keep some in my purse but didn’t have them today. I went into a store, which sold housewares, odds and ends, and lo-and-behold band-aids (cerotto)! I think the store is called a mesticheria.

I was walking along the road when I spotted Pamela and Claudia. I had the pleasure of staying at Pamela’s Bed & Breakfast in Oct. 2007 with my sister. We became friends and I was so happy to see her again. I “met” Claudia through SlowTrav.com and it was a delight to meet her in person. She and her husband moved to Pienza in August of 2008. We made our way to the famous Dario’s.

Pamela received hugs from Dario and introduced us. He’s so alive and outgoing! We headed upstairs and sat at the large communal dining table. Dante, our server, was happy to see Pamela, as was Kim, Dario’s girlfriend who is very sweet and a good friend to Pamela. Dante brought a bowl of vegetables to dip in olive oil. With flair and expertise, he mixed the olive oil with “profumo del Chianti”, making an emulsion for dipping. Yum! I bought a jar to take home along with a jar of Diva’s Mostarda Mediterranea. By this time, Nora Kravis (who owns the heavenly Chianti Cashmere) also joined us. I had stayed on Nora’s farm as part of my 50th birthday celebration in 2004. I wrote about it in my Trip Report #558.

We all ordered the MacDario, a half pound burger in a crisp crumb crust, garlic and sage roasted potatoes, grilled red onions and delicious sauces to choose from. €10,00 each. Claudia and I ordered ours “medio.” We all enjoyed Dario’s red wine. It was great catching up with Nora and Pamela and getting to know Claudia. I had so much fun with these fortunate ladies who get to live in Tuscany!!

Nora needed to head back to her farm (goats were being born)! Pamela was anxious to get back to Montepulciano. She and her daughter wanted to get there for casting calls for the new Twilight movie. I had planned on meeting Rita and Lino in Panzano, but Pamela kindly drove me to Chiocchio where I hung out at La Chiantigiana, the local (and only) bar. I ordered my first Campari on the rocks with a slice of orange. It was delicious!! I wrote in my journal and waited for Rita and Lino. Similar to the names of many towns along the SR 222; Radda in Chianti, Greve in Chianti,and Strada in Chianti, I was Pokey in Chiocchio! Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

Rita and Lino arrived sooner than I had expected which was a nice surprise. They have a lovely home in Chiocchio and it was a wonderful evening with friends! I drank a LOT of bianco frizzante and had no headache or hangover. Dinner was delicious and we ended the evening with homemade limoncello, (the lemons were from Sicily). I hope Rita and Lino forgive me for turning a glass of limoncello upside down onto their table cloth. Seriously, I didn’t know Lino had poured it into the ceramic shot glass. It was NOT because of all the bianco frizzante. It wasn’t, I swear. They drove me back to my comfy bed in Florence. I would later see Lino at the bar he works at in Florence. Again, if it weren’t for SlowTrav, I would not have met these wonderful people nor have had my first Campari in Chiocchio!

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Dario Cecchini "meats" Pokey
 
#3
Day 3, April 29. Meeting New Friends in Florence

Up about 7:30am, made coffee (I brought #2 coffee filters and my Melitta Filter cone). At 9:30am I walked to Palazzo Strozzi where I met with Melinda Gallo inside a lovely caffe’ for a cappuccino and chocolate cornetto. I have followed Melinda’s blog for about three years. (see Resources Page). I was so excited to meet her as we’d been corresponding on and off for a while now. She is a beautiful woman inside and out. I love her writing style and am so happy that her life in Florence is a happy and fulfilling one! Melinda asked me to bring her an Oprah magazine, which I was happy to do. I was thrilled to have found the April issue that has Michelle Obama on the front, also the May issue. Melinda was happy with her “Oprah” fix. We talked about the launching of her new website Dining in Florence. I will write restaurant reviews for her website. Good luck Melinda!

After coffee, Melinda offered to help me run a few errands. First stop, the Uffizi gift shop! I had asked on SlowTalk if a person could get into the gift shop without having to pay to get into the Uffizi. The answer is yes, if you have a beautiful lady with you who speaks Italian and asks the guard “per favore?”. It probably also helped that she is a member of the Uffizi! He whisked us right through the door, we passed through security and viola! We were inside the gift shop where I bought my sought-after "David" credit card protectors. Even Melinda had never seen them and thought they were cool. I also bought a crap-load of bookmarks to give to the gals at work. We were in and out in about 20 minutes. Good! I checked that “to do” off my list.

Melinda also took me to her “hood” tabbachi where I bought a €5,00 phone card (best way to call the USA, over eight hours of talking time if you use a land-line). I also put euros on Maureen’s cell phone, which she so kindly let me borrow. From there we went to The Paperback Exchange (really nice bathroom inside by the way) where I bought a mystery book and also The Piazzas of Florence, beautifully written by her friend Lisa McGarry. (see Resources page). Later that evening I met Lisa at the Pitti Caffe where there was a party for The Florentine magazine, they were celebrating their 100th issue. Lisa is a sweetheart and kindly autographed my book. If you love Florence, you will love Lisa's book. Buy it! (per favore).

After my time that morning with Melinda, I made my way back to La Rinascente department store. I was hoping to find some drop dead gorgeous flatware, but the only set I liked and could afford was made in freakin’ CHINA! That's just not right!

I took advantage of the clean bathroom and also peaked into the often mentioned rooftop terrace caffe. I thought of going in for a light bite but knew that Colleen had it on her “to do list” so I didn’t go. (We ended up never getting up there. Next time Colleen okay)? I also stopped by Bartolini kitchen shop on Via de Servi, but it was closed for the afternoon hours. I headed back to my “home” but not before I passed GROM and enjoyed a €5.00 cup of pistachio e extranoir cioccolato. I headed over the busy Ponte Vecchio and stopped into Caffe Maioli where Lino works. It was fun to see his smiling face! I thanked him again for a delicious meal and how lovely it was to spend time with he and Rita. I bought a cornetto for the next morning.

Another thing on my “to do” list was go right next door to Madova gloves. I had bought a pair of purple suede gloves in 2005 that, over the years, had torn at the wrist. It was a very noticeable tear and I hoped they could fix it for me. The lady who does repairs had gone for the day but they would give it to her and mail it to me, which they did! I received it a few days after I returned home. Although they couldn’t match the exact color suede, it looks pretty damned good and it didn’t cost me a cent or euro!! I also bought two new pairs of gloves on this trip. I love Madova gloves.

I walked home, passing the Pitti Palace and checked to see if the Internet Point was still there, it is. Stopping off for a few cans of Coke-Light, I headed home.

At 6:30 I met my friend Daniele in front of Santa Maria del Carmine. Daniele was a waiter at what used to be Osteria dell Ardiglione. I had met him in 2005 with my friend Tony and we both immediately felt we’d found a good friend in this young man! I saw him again in 2007 and we’ve kept in touch via email/Facebook ever since. It was great to see him again. He no longer works in the restaurant business (although on occasion he does help out his friends’ who own Trattoria Sant’Agostino23). He grew up in this neighborhood and took me to a favorite bar, where we had a glass of prosecco and a few “happy hour” snacks. He wanted to introduce me to his friends who own Trattoria Sant’Agostino23 so we ran over there and said hello. Stefano and Gabriele said “you must eat here” and I said “how about tonight at 8? Perfetto! See you then.”

I had brought Daniele a Boston University long sleeved T-shirt as a gift but forgot it at the apartment. We made a quick stop for it. He loved his gift. We ran into Miriam and I introduced them; they both agreed that next time I visit Florence I will be speaking Italian much better. Ha ha! I don’t know about that but I’ll do my best. We hugged goodbye and I headed to Pitti Cafe for The Florentine celebration.

I didn’t stay too long as I was hungry and looking forward to my meal at Sant’Agostino 23. I was seated right away. Stefano and Gabriele made me feel welcome and special! I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. (Link to my review under Resource pages at end of this report). I sat next to a young Italian couple who laughed as I took food photos and wrote in my journal. I would run into this same couple two nights later when I ran over to make reservations for Colleen and I. So funny!

I had an easy walk home and watched a funny show on TV, “Contondo Ballando, which seemed to feature old "has-been" singing stars. On MTV I heard a great song called SHINE by Laura Izibor. I need to put it on my IPod. I had a great night’s sleep and was looking forward to tomorrow when my shorter half Colleen arrives in Florence.

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Rape of The Sabine Women
 
#4
Day 4, April 30th. Colleen Arrives!

I am up early, good thing, as I got lost trying to maneuver my way to the Museum of San Marco. I arrived about 9:45am (€4,00). This is one of my favorite places to visit and I wanted to see again, the amazing frescoes by Fra Angelico within the monks' cells. Just as I was about to climb the stairs to the monks’ cells, my cell-phone rang! It was Colleen and she was on her way to Florence and would arrive at SMN station at 11am. I was able to take my time with the frescoes and then I met Colleen at the train station. It was so good to see her. We hugged and squealed and off we went to get lost trying to find the Arno. Jeesh. This was our first try at reading a map. You’d think we’d just received our brains. Oh-My-God. What a pair. We finally found our way to the Ponte Amerigo Vespucci (hey, we were only off by one bridge). Colleen had never been to Residenze Il Carmine and I couldn’t wait for her to see our lovely, HUGE, apartment! She was shocked when we walked into the large Domus apartment! She took a quick shower and then we headed over to Pallottino for lunch.

Colleen did a lot of restaurant research and I was more than happy to go wherever she suggested. She did not disappoint. We both enjoyed spaghetti bolognese, I had a glass of prosecco and grilled zucchini, red pepper and eggplant. It was very good, only locals while we were there and friendly staff. We headed over to Piazza Santa Croce where there were many vendors selling local artisan products. We bee-lined it over to The Gold Corner where Colleen bought a delicate gold bracelet and I caved and bought another Nomination bracelet. We took our time wandering back to Ponte alle Carraia, happy together for the first time in Italy. (I know some of you are now humming along to “Happy Together” by the Turtles).

Colleen needed her Rampini ceramic fix so we headed over there. She went on her way and I stopped into Munstermann, my favorite farmacia, to buy a bottle of Iris Fiorentina for MoJen and a bottle of Lillia perfume for myself. The staff is very friendly and I recognized the pharmacist from my previous visits. She must have thought I needed a better cleanser because she gave me a free jar of Crema Detergente! I found Colleen drooling over all the gorgeous ceramics, she was able to leave the store without spending too many euro! I wanted to stop into Galletti again where I purchased a beautiful earring and necklace set to wear to my niece’s wedding. Colleen wasn’t going to buy anything until I pointed out the cute purple watch. Purple is THE color in Italy this year!!

For dinner, it was a short walk over the Arno to Da Giovanni. This was one of my favorite meals.

Every time I use the glasses we bought that evening I will smile and remember a great evening!

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Garden at Residenza Il Carmine
 
#5
Day 5, May 1, Labor Day. Many Shops Closed but We Manage

Today is Labor Day in Italy. Colleen goes out early for her cappuccino. Being the best travel partner ever, she brings me a delicious crema filled cornetto. I am not a morning person and enjoy my coffee in the apartment. I know I miss out on the early morning “happenings” in and around our neighborhood, but I’m okay with that! I have the beautiful garden of Il Carmine all to myself and I enjoy the quiet moments of another glorious day in Florence.

We know that most retail stores, businesses, and offices are closed today. We head out, knowing that we’ll still find plenty to do today. Our first stop is back to The Gold Corner to pick up Colleen’s bracelet which she had sized. We knew they’d be open today, although the store had to pay a hefty fine for choosing to open on Labor Day. We head over to Casa Buonorati but it is closed. What IS open is the fabulous Lorenzo Market. I had bought a purse and jacket from the nicest young man, Luca, in 2007 when I was with my sister. I was hoping he still worked there and I was happy to see him! After a few minutes of talking to him and reminding him about the Boston postcard I gave him, his face lit up and he remembered our visit. He said “Yes, you give to me a Boston Red Sox bottle opener.” He was happy to see me, we chatted a bit, got a fun photo. I love Luca, he’s quite a character! His shop is Giorgio Leather Factory, via canto de nelli 28-32/r.

Also that day, we visited the Mercato del Porcellino where Colleen bought a tie, scarf and rubbed the boar’s snout! I’d wanted to visit Palazzo Medici Riccardi, which was open and we enjoyed it very much, although I thought the €7,00 entrance fee was a bit high.

We go back to the apartment and relax. We head out around 3:15pm, stopping at Gelateria La Carraia for gelato, we need it for our walk to San Miniato! We walked along the Arno on our way up to Piazzale Michelangelo and then to San Minato, one of my favorite churches. Our route up takes us to a steep pedestrian stairway that I’ve never been on before. This sucker is wicked steep and I’m questioning whether or not my heart will take it, not to mention my quivering thighs! (hmm, sounds like a sentence from a Harlequin romance novel)! Regardless of how we got there, we got there! We bought water, caught our breath and took a ton of photos. Unfortunately it wasn’t a clear day and we couldn’t see forever. We then walked up to San Miniato, sat on a bench, and took in the incomparable view.

Vespers were at 5:30pm so we had time to walk inside this beautiful church. The trussed ceiling and tabernacle with roof by Luca della Robbia blows my mind. I’m so happy to be here again. We go upstairs to view the frescoes, Colleen pays €1,00 to light the place up but it didn’t work. We couldn’t find a monk to save our souls! (We just wanted the room lit up)! We walked down into the crypt and got seats for vespers. It is a beautiful experience and I close my eyes and enjoy this moment.

We walk home via the Ponte Vecchio and Pitti Palace. I stop and buy two watercolors from a local artist who calls himself “Leonardo Da Vinci Jr.” and yes, Marian, honestly, he tells me that I have beautiful eyes. LOL.

By now we are ready for a quick bite so we stop into Il Fornaio Galli on Via Maggio. It can be very busy inside, but the staff is patient and treats each customer as if they’re the only one in the store. How they keep track of everything amazes me.

We enjoy our snack in the garden along with a bottle of Prosecco. We are entertained by Maria, the Li Pira family’s English Bull dog. Naturally, since we are eating, we talk about where we’ll go for dinner. I had enjoyed my meal so much at Sant’Agostino 23 on Wednesday, I wanted Colleen to try it too. Rather than call for reservations, I made a quick dash over there and made reservations in person. Funny, the same couple I sat next to on Wednesday were there again and we said, “Ciao” and had a laugh. They live in Abruzzo and were in Florence on their vacation! Their hotel recommended Sant’Agostino 23, and like me, they came back for a second time!

Colleen and I walked over there about 8:30pm and enjoyed our meal. You can read about our scrumptious meal in my review which I’ve linked to under Resources. We’re home around 10:45pm and prepare for our last day in Florence.

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Cute Maria
 
#6
Day 6, May 2. Fun at the Ottica Shop and the Nicest Cashier in Florence

We get up around 8am, Colleen goes out for her cappuccino and returns with my cornetto. She’s the best. We walk past Pitti Palace and end up at Madova gloves where Colleen makes a purchase. We stop in Maioli to say “ciao” to Lino. He’s so cute and brightens our day even more. We head back to Casa Buonorati and are pleased that it’s open and practically empty. While I don’t recall specifics, I DO know that the gift shop is quite nice and the cashier was one of the friendliest ladies I’ve ever met. We had fun trying to pick out calendars and postcards. She was laughing at us trying to make up our minds. After we paid, she went over to the bookmarks and gave each of us a bookmark as a gift. As luck would have it, I happened to have a Quincy, MA/ John Quincy Adams bookmark with me, which I gave to her. She was so thrilled I thought she would start to cry. These are the moments I remember most!

Colleen wanted to visit a ceramic store which she loved and I could see why! Ditta Luca della Robbia, Via del Proconsolo 19/R is a amazing ceramic store! I ended up buying a few wine stoppers (one with the Duomo and cathedral daintily painted on the top) and a lovely oval dish, creamer and covered sugar set for my niece’s wedding gift. I’m sure she’ll love it and think about her favorite auntie buying if for her in Florence, Italy!! We also popped into one of Colleen’s favorite leather and paper shops, Lilium, Via del Proconsolo,77r. Stefano Sternini is the delightful owner and he handcrafts all of his photo albums, frames, journals, etc. We talked about the economy and he said this year he has seen a 50% drop in his business. I felt terrible about this so I bought a gorgeous red leather photo album from him. It’s the least I could do, right?

Our plan was to have lunch at Da Mario near Mercato Centrale, but there was a 45 minute wait. Conveniently located next door is Pepo where Colleen had eaten during another Florence visit. We had the best table near the window and thoroughly enjoyed the pasta of the day, penne with mushrooms, black olives, tomato, pancetta, parsley in a light/ subtle cream sauce. Yes, I wrote a positive review!

Walking along Via Nazionale I spotted an “Ottica” and we went in. I wanted to purchase new frames, regular and sunglasses. Well, you know me and Colleen, we make every shopping experience a party! The optician and tech were so nice and I had fun trying on all sorts of funky and fabulous glasses. I ended up with a rather “tame” red frame, but all three gals agreed that I had to have them! My sunglasses are green and very nice too. Price for both was €240,00. My optician agrees that they are exceptionally well made and thinks I made a wise choice. We left the store after hugging goodbye and getting a photo (I did not buy the glasses I’m wearing in the photo, I just grabbed ‘em for the photo as mine were all wrapped up). We left the shop saying “How much fun was that”! (Ottica Del Lungo Via Nazionale 92R). I highly recommend this place if you’re looking for new frames.

Since we were near the train station we thought we’d hop in and get our tickets for Bologna. It’s a good thing we did because the two trains we wanted were already booked! Since we wanted to arrive by noontime our only option was the 9:19am train, which got us into Bologna at 10:20am, earlier than we’d anticipated. (€19,00 per person for second class). Colleen called Marcello and told him of our earlier arrival and he said it wasn’t a problem at all. We loved him already. We had no idea at that moment how much fun we were about to have with Marcello.

We walked home via Lungarno Archibusieri so Colleen could buy a new leather eyeglass case from P. Papini & Co (quality since 1896 don’t ‘cha know)!. At home we begin to pack as tomorrow we begin our tour of Emilia Romagna.

We had made reservations for La Giostra the night before as they were booked Friday night. (to be honest, they offered us 9:30pm but that was too late for these two party animals). Colleen had read amazing reviews of La Giostra so we both were really looking forward to eating there. We took a taxi and were greeted by the owners son who was very theatrical and wore a lot of bracelets and rings! I wrote a review so you can read about our experience. All in all it was very good and I’m glad we went, although once was enough for me.

When we got home we ran into Miriam and Caterina. We chatted and laughed with them for quite a while. Miriam had arranged for a taxi to pick us up the next morning at 8:45am. We hugged goodnight and I thought I’d see Miriam in the morning to say goodbye again, but sadly I didn’t. I love them so much and feel so sad every time I leave. I know I will see them again the next time I’m in Florence!

We finished packing and I was worried about getting my heavy suitcase up on the train ... something to stress about while falling asleep.

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Ottica Girls
 
#7
Day 7, May 3. Our Food Lover's Gastronomic Tour begins!

We’re up early, Colleen is out the door for her last cappuccino and cornetto. Today’s cornetto is warm and filled with chocolate. The best yet! The taxi is right on time and I don’t get a final goodbye with Miriam. The ride to SMN station is quick and I think it was €7,00. We arrive in plenty of time and find our train with no problems. We get our luggage on the train, I help Colleen and lift her bag onto the overhead storage area. My suitcase is P.D.H. (pretty damned heavy). A very kind man offers to help me hoist the sucker up and that’s that! There is always someone to help you, right? Our ride was uneventful and we arrived in Bologna right on schedule.

Marcello told us to stay put once we got off the train. “Do not move, do not walk anywhere. You will see me with sign.” And that we did! The “Colleen” sign was bigger than she! We introduced ourselves to Marcello and he managed to fit our luggage into his car. He told us that he would pick us up at the hotel at 6:30pm for our first evening’s adventure! This was when we found out that COLLEEN AND I ARE THE ONLY TWO PEOPLE ON THE TOUR!!! YEE, FREAKIN’ HAH!! We just looked at each other and grinned from orecchio to orecchio!

Our rooms at the lovely Al Cappello Rosso were ready, so we unpacked and relaxed for an hour or so. I love my room and feel like a V.I.P! The hotel is one block from Piazza Maggiore. We decide to have a cocktail and some lunch at Bar Romano, which is right next to the Basilica of San Petronio. We each enjoyed a ham panini, beer, and espresso. Afterward we made a beeline to the highly recommended and popular Gelateria Gianni. I savored every bite of my €2.60 cup; “Inferno” (white chocolate and “variegato amarena"& wafer) AND I “married” it with Che Fatica Farlo (crema, niccola e piccoli bigne’ ricoperti di nutella). Oh my Lord, I think my spanx exploded!

Back to the hotel to check our emails and relax. Unbeknown to me, Colleen had ventured out again and who does she run into? Chiocciola! This will be the first of two encounters where I miss out meeting her. One day, one day, I’ll get you my pretty!!

Marcello picks us up at 6:15pm for our drive to the charming medieval hill town of Dozza. Dozza is known for its festival of the painted wall, which takes place every two years. During this festival, famous national and international artists paint artwork on the walls of the houses. Not only is this place right out of a fairytale, but the town is celebrating “Vino In Festa” and there are throngs of folks enjoying wine (and a wedding)! The festa has been going on all day and there are a lot of very happy and staggering revelers! They are taking down the grape clusters made of balloons which are decorating the town.

We walk around and are enchanted by the painted walls. My camera can’t take photos fast enough! Do yourselves a huge favor and if you’re near Dozza stop and enjoy the uniqueness of this town!

Marcello takes us into his favorite Ristorante, “Cane” where he knows everyone. It reminds me of an Italian family restaurant I went to eons ago on Long Island! The outdoor terrace has a breathtaking view of Imola and nearby areas. We take a few photos and are seated inside. (It was a bit chilly to eat outdoors). We start off with the house Vino Spumante Brut. Colleen then tastes a San Giovese di Romagna and it's love at first sip! This means I must finish the spumante all by myself. So sad. I am served a very typical Emilia Romagna dish of tortollini in brodo. I could imagine myself enjoying this on a cold winter’s night! Colleen and Marcello have the Lasagna in forno, which I try and it’s excellent. It is made with spinach lasagna. As the evening progressed, we also savor “strossapreti” with zucchini and pomodorini, grilled maiali wrapped in bacon and grilled on skewers.

We get to know Marcello a little bit better and find him very knowledgeable and entertaining! We learn that his company, Bluone, has recently been mentioned in the NY Times and on The Food network. He is happy to be busy in these difficult times. One quote of his that I wrote in my journal from this evening is, “The biggest cancer in Italy is the bureaucracy.”

We leave Dozza filled with food, wine and laughter!

When I return to my room, I find that A: I still have the price tag on my new blouse and B: There is a “Bonne Nuit” towel on the floor beside my bed and a chocolate! I sleep soundly and peacefully.

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Our personalized itinerary!
 
#8
Day 8, May 4. Herbs with Antonietta and Cooking with Elena

Breakfast at our hotel is great! An excellent selection and great cappuccinos. We meet Marcello outside and off we go to the town of Modigliana. The hills of Romagna are lovely and I can appreciate the difference in landscape between here and Tuscany. There are many fruit trees, especially kiwi! Marcello tells us that there is an agricultural school here and, after studying the soil and climate combination, realized that kiwi trees would grow well in this area. They've been growing kiwi here for about the last 25 or so years. Also, apricot and cherry trees are seen.

We drive up and up a winding hill and reach the idyllic and privately owned herb garden of Antonietta Di Tirro. (giardinoaromatico@yahoo.it) She takes us on a tour of her garden, explaining how herbs are used in cooking and medicinally. Of course she points out the natural “viagra” plants and I comment on how large they are. Marcello blushes, shakes his head, and walks away. She does all of the work herself and it amazes me how many herbs she has and how bountiful they all are. I’m lucky if I can grow basil. Just to name a FEW of her magnificent herbs; anise, calamint, costmary, dill, garden savory, hot peppers, lavender, lemon balm, lemon thyme, mint, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. (you're singing now, aren't you)?

After our tour of the herb garden we sit outside under her pergola. She has made a delicious lunch for us, using many of her herbs and homemade jams. We enjoy fresh ricotta and pecorino with many of her jams, including cherry and mint, figs, chocolate and hazelnut, fruit in sambucco, fruita secca (I’m copying this from my journal and not quite sure of what I wrote). We also devoured a frittata made with God knows what herbs but it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten!! (I don’t think the natural viagra was used). **wink wink**. We had wine and water, also for dessert a lampone (currant) crostata. We had the opportunity, and pleasure, to buy some of her homemade jams and jellies.

On the way to our next destination, Castrocaro Terme to see the regional stamped linens made, we come across a work crew on a road which Marcello replies “Never, have I seen a work crew here on this road.” The road is narrow with many twists and turns. The road crew’s truck has just stopped in the middle of the road rather than pulling over so cars can pass. Marcello is patient and waits for them to move their truck. As we pass, he says to Colleen and I, “You can buy brains in the supermarket.” What a crackup.

In Castrocaro Terme, we visit Strammiello where we watch the local artisan craft of hand printed linens. The following is a quote from The Ivy Leaf Blog:

"Using hand-carved wood block prints and colors made with natural ingredients, artisans have been making these beautiful linens since the Middle-Ages.

The patterns were inspired by rural life. Grapes, wheat, the rooster, sunflowers were the prevalent regional symbols. Later, the designs were expanded to include motifs from embroideries, architectural friezes and other patterns from different ages. In addition to the traditional rust color, made with iron dioxide (rust), flour, and vinegar, linens are also printed in deep sea blue and earthy dark green, reflecting the tones of the region.

A handful of artisan workshops have united into the Association of Romagnolan Linen Printers, and they still hand-print all their products. Each workshop proudly uses their own name on the label, but they all share a common association logo which guarantees the manufacturing quality and the use of the traditional printing method. Items include tablecloths, dish towels and other table and kitchenware".

Colleen buys a few napkins and kitchen towels. I berate myself for not having charged my camera battery. Driving along SS67 through Dovadola, Marcello tells us that this is the center for white truffles and there is a big “festa” in October. Maybe one year I’ll go!!

Since we have time before our next scheduled “date”, Marcello takes us to Terra di Brisighella, where we find a delightful "cooperative" selling products from the area, including gas-station like pumps where folks “filler up” with local rosso or bianco. They even pump olive oil! A young man on his motorcycle pulled up outside and when he untied his large glass jug for wine, it slipped out of his hands and broke into a million pieces. I felt so badly for him. He seemed to take it in stride and drove off, probably to get another jug! I sampled the La Rocca Trebbiano which was good. I bought a bottle for €3.20. I enjoyed this later in my hotel room. We learn from Marcello that for this area of Italy, Brisighella is the center for EVOO production. We leave with a few other purchases. (My jar of “crema di cipolla” is waiting in my cupboard for me to open and enjoy. I think it will be tasty on grilled hamburgers).

Onward and upward we drive to Azienda Agrituristica Malbrola and meet the adorable Elena, where she teaches us how to make a variety of local dishes. First, we drink her homemade wine! Colleen and I finally learn the proper way to make bechamel sauce. I’m not sure Elena used enough butter! Ha!! She kept telling us, more butter, more cream, until it thickens up like cream cheese frosting! We made Zucchini Ripieni and loved the tool she uses to hollow out the zucchini; a “scavalino.” We also made Torta Salata, with mushrooms, garlic, prosciutto, egg, and ricotta. We bake this in a pie crust, “Pasta Sfoglia.” I don’t particularly like mushrooms, but it rocked! We rolled out our pasta for the Cannelloni, which we filled with prosciutto, grated parmigiano and bechamel sauce. Did I mention I wore elastic waist pants? We enjoy the fruits of our labors at her family dining room table and “cin cin” to a lovely cooking class and meal.

Colleen and I had a perfect first full day on our Food Lover’s Tour!

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Filler Up with Rosso or Bianco
 
#9
Day 9, May 5th. It's a D.O.P.-a-licious day AND We Fall in Love With Luigi

We had an early pickup this morning (7:45am). It was a chore after all we ate and drank yesterday. But, Colleen and I are not wimpy food lover’s! No siree Bob!

We arrive around 8:30am to COOP CASEARIA CASTELNOVESE. We put on our ever-so-slimming (NOT!) white paper robes and enter into "P.R.H". Parmigiano Reggiano Heaven! We watch the fascinating process of cheese making. The first thing I notice are the women scooping out the freshy-fresh ricotta! Marcello explains the different stages and how the wheels of cheese receive their “D.O.P. stamp.” Parmigiano Reggiano is ONLY made in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna to the west of the Reno River and Mantua to the east of the Po River.

We watch a video and sample bites of cheese along with warm ricotta, which we eat out of a dixie cup. I wish we had some of Antonietta’s homemade jam to eat too!

We enter into a huge storage room where I experience a “David” moment. Seriously, I had the same feeling in my chest that I did when I first laid eyes on the statue of “David”. I couldn’t believe my eyes! For a brief moment, I thought I was in Costco where they sold nothing but Wheels of Cheese! I think I can speak for Colleen when I say, this experience was one of the highlights of our trip. Reading my notes, I find another one of Marcello’s famous quotes, although I don’t remember who or what he was referring to: “Brains of a turkey (cervello tacchino) and the eyes of a fish.” That’s our Marcello!!

From here, we drive to Villa San Dommino, where we meet Davide. His family has owned this gorgeous villa since 1947. The house was built in 1911 and was occupied by Nazi officers during WWII. Davide is the third generation of balsamico producers. We climb up into the attic and Davide explains to us (in his impeccable English) how balsamico is made and afterward we taste different “ages” of the balsamico. The “not less than 25 years of aging” D.O.P. is a heavenly elixir. Davide tells us his home was in the movie “1900” starring Robert De Niro, Gérard Depardieu, and Dominique Sanda. He graciously brings us into his drop-dead gorgeous home and invites us into his TV room where (of course) he has the DVD of the movie. We watch the bit that was filmed here. He lives in this enormous house with his wife. Colleen asks if he has children and he says “No, but hope some day.” I ask if the bronze sculptures are Erte. He says, ”I wish.” I quickly reply “If they were, I’d have your baby.” He laughed so hard, it was a fun moment.

I bought a bottle of three year old balsamico for €12.00. I wanted to take his cat home with me.

It’s now about 11:30am, you’d think we’d had enough for one day, right? NO!! We’re off to meet the effervescent and adorable Luigi! We arrive at his Ristorante Le Ville (Via Giardini, 1272 Modena). We are served prosecco and go into his kitchen where he and his brother entertain us! Luigi is so freakin’ cute, I want to put him in my purse and take him home! His brother shows Colleen and I how to prepare fried Parmesan cheese "bowls." Colleen tells him that her daughter works at the White House and Luigi’s face lights up, "OBAMA!! He loves the photo of her daughter with President Obama. He is too cute!! We watch as he prepares a salad of arugula, romaine, carrots, and prosciutto. He adds thin slices of parmigiano reggiano and balsamico. Squisito! My body was craving a salad and this beauty hit the spot. We also enjoyed the rich and creamy risotto served in the “cheese” bowl with a drizzling of balsamico. We drank Lambrusco, the red sparkling wine typical of the Modena area. For dessert, (of course there had to be dessert), we were served vanilla gelato which sat in a “bowl” made from butter, egg whites, sugar and flour. Also on the plate were succulent strawberries and a drizzling of balsamico. We hugged Luigi goodbye. What a delightful person. Marcello is drawn to honest, good people. Another favorite Marcello quote, “To be a nice person, it is nice.”

We have the rest of the day and evening to ourselves. We relax a bit and freshen up, then head out and walk around Bologna.

For dinner this evening (because we haven’t had enough to eat today), we have 8pm reservations at Cesari (Via de’ Carbonesi, 8). Since we only have two meals on our own while in Bologna, Colleen did a lot of research and I went with whatever she recommended. We were not disappointed in our meal. I had a glass of Trebbiano and “Cool-een” (‘cuz she is so cool) had a 1/2 bottle of Sangiovese di Romagna/Umberto Cesari (vino di casa). The primi special was pasta with eggplant, cheese, tomato sauce and fresh basil. For secondi, I really wanted to try the “guanciale” pigs cheek. Oh. My. God. It was so tender you could cut it with a feather. It was served with a carrot puree and a vegetable flan (mozzarella, ricotta, eggplant, and “salsa” I wrote that down but not sure why, LOL). Our waitress, Veronica, was very sweet and had so much passion about the food she was serving us. She made sure we understood what we were eating and how it was prepared. To end our meal we had a grape and blueberry digestivo. The bottle was poured from an iced wine cooler. Total €53.50. (that’s correct, we did not have dessert. We’re watching our weight ... go up)!!

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Parmigiano reggiano heaven!
 
#10
Day 10, May 6th. We Shop, Eat, Drink, Cook and Learn About Bologna

After breakfast and cappuccinos, we meet Marcello in the lobby (where he ”borrows” a copy of Il Resto Del Carlino, a favorite newspaper of his). We are excited to finally meet his wife, Raffaella and daughter Francesca. Today we shop at the local outdoor markets where we’ll buy only the freshest ingredients for our cooking class later today at their home. We are joined by “Chatty-Tina”, a fast-talker from Philadelphia. Thank God she wasn’t on the tour with us all six days. ‘Nuff said.

Raffaella and Francesca are enchanting and gush with kindness. They are very knowledgeable and passionate about the food from this area. We discuss what we would like to make, and Colleen suggests fried zucchini flowers. Yeah, this will be fun! We also decide on chicken, pork, and, of course, Bolognese ragu. We sample cheese, meats, and the freshest strawberries ever! Everywhere your eyes look, there is a photo opportunity. I’ll be making “food theme calendars” for Christmas gifts this year!

As a special treat, we visit the pasta school where Francesca teaches a class. Two gals are busy making tortelli, their fingers work at lightning fast speed! This pasta shop/school supplies the majority of the fresh pasta to Bruno e Franco, the salumeria which we visit as part of our tour today. While the 25 year old balsamico we taste isn’t “D.O.P”, we both agree that it’s excellent and each buy a bottle for €25.00. (better on my budget than the €75.00 for the D.O.P we tasted at Davide’s). I will use this sparingly! The fresh salads and piadini look so delicious, we decide to get a few things “to go” for our lunch. We are encouraged to eat lightly as we will no doubt eat like kings tonight. We make our choices and say “a presto” to the gals.

We sit by the Nettuno fountain and I enjoy my Insalata di riso and Colleen has a yummy farro salad. Each salad has ingredients such as prosciutto cotto, emmenthal cheese, olives, capers and carrots. Amazingly fresh and filling. The fountain nymphettes holding their breasts with water spewing out from the nipples cracks me up. Of course, I must take photos for my fellow mammo techs back home!

Colleen and I then walk back to Al Cappello Rosso where we meet our Bologna guide, Paola Golinelli (paola.golinelli@ad-arte.com). Marcello is equally passionate about any guides he employs on his Food Lover’s Tours. We immediately know that Paola is no exception, she is full of energy and “wicked” smart about the history and architecture of Bologna (and Ravenna).

We love our time with Paola.

We meet Marcello and chatty-Tina in front of Le due Torri. Evidently, Raffaella is a tad miffed that we’re running late to begin the cooking lessons; he scurries us off to his apartment. However, Marcello being Marcello, he “blah blah blah’s” with Paola for another 10-15 minutes. Colleen and I are used to this by now. He’s always running into someone he knows :). We arrive to their beautiful and HUGE home (more of an apartment style then single family home). We put on our aprons and are ready to cook, drink, and laugh! AND, if Chatty-Tina tells me one more bleepin’ time how many gigabytes worth of photos she’s taken, I’m seriously going to bop her with one of those snazzy wooden pasta rollers.

Marcello keeps the prosecco flowing. So as not to make this any longer than it already is, I will say that we had the BEST TIME EVER. Raffaella knows cooking! Francesca is following along in her footsteps and will continue the family tradition of cooking and teaching. We sit down at their dining room table and enjoy the delicious food that we’ve made. We end the evening with a small walnut digestivo "nocino." Raffaella explains that the walnuts are picked on June 24th (or within a week or so of that date). Why you ask? The shells are still soft! I thought of "Hoochie Mama Deborah" and wonder if she's made any walnut hooch!!

Sadly, we won’t see “Raffy” or Francesca again during our tour. I wish we could have spent more time with them both.

*** Raffy has the neatest “tool” for getting the skins off of garlic. It’s like a rubbery cylinder in which she places the garlic cloves and then rolls it on the table. The garlic cloves comes out smooth, ready to chop. Genius! We tried to find one but never did. Does anyone know the proper name? We had fun describing it to a shopkeeper in Farrara. After playing charades and pointing to words in my Italian dictionary, he knew what we wanted but he didn’t have any in stock.

Marcello takes us to his car which he parks in a garage along with about six other cars. He has had this “spot” for years and it’s worth the cost. Parking spots are few in this bustling city. He drives us back to our hotel and we prepare for another day.

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Raffaella, Colleen, Marcello & Mindy
 
#11
Day 11, May 7th. Ravenna's Mystical and Magical Mosaics

In the morning, we leave for Ravenna, famous for its Byzantine mosaics and architecture. I’ll add here that since Colleen’s arrival last Thursday, we’ve had great weather!

As part of our Food Tour, Marcello buys our tickets to The Basilica of San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. He does not join us but takes his newspapers and plops down at an outdoor cafe where we will meet him in a few hours. (We run into Paola, our Bologna guide. She says hello and we think it’s a hoot that we see her today. We say later that it would have been a treat to have her as our guide today in Ravenna).

Walking into the Basilica, we are speechless and overwhelmed by the beauty, essence, craftsmanship and wonder that IS the Basilica. Those of you who’ve been here know that it’s hard to describe the mosaics and unique Byzantine architecture. I remember Colleen commenting that being here and experiencing this exact moment; looking at the sparkling and amazing mosaics is a reminder, to her, that Italy never disappoints. There is always something new to take her breath away. Kind of like “David” and “Wheels of Cheese.”

We share the space with a large group of students on their field trip. They are well behaved and I find it pretty cool that they can come to such a magical and historic place, but I suppose that’s all around them by living in Italy! The most fun I had on a field trip was visiting the La Brea Tar Pits in Southern California!

After taking many photos, we then walk over, through the pretty grounds, and enter into the Mausoleum. Again, this leaves me in awe and saying “wow.” It’s hard to take photos inside, but I happen to get a few good shots.

We meet Marcello at our designated spot and walk along Via C. Ricci to Ca’ de’ Ven’ where we enjoy a delicious lunch sitting “outside” in a covered garden patio. Of course, Marcello knows everyone as he’s been coming here for years. I try something a bit different to drink, a Chardonnay frizzante. Molto bene! Colleen gets her favorite Sangiovese (she buys a bottle to take home). I get the insalata misti, Colleen has grilled veggies. The waitress also brings us a huge plate of melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto. We share pasta with sausage, “strozzapreti salsiccia piselli o ragu.”

After lunch, we drive to Faenza where we stop into a gelateria for a delicious treat. I’m having trouble asking for a “taste” of a certain flavor, fortunately Marcello comes to my rescue! To taste: assaggiare/assaggio. Now I know!!

A childhood friend of Marcello’s owns Bottega M. Linari Ceramiche Artistiche in Faenza. Colleen and I enjoy looking around at his beautiful pieces. The ceramics here are distinct to this area. As I learned from Gina Ceramics on SlowTalk.com, the style we bought “is painted in the "Garofano" (red carnation) style, a pattern from the late 18th c. It is believed that Marco Polo brought the design from the East." His friend shows how each piece is treated and how he decorates each piece by hand. I buy three small pieces.

Since it’s been almost 47 minutes since we last ate something, we were off to meet another friend of Marcello’s, Nicola. He is the owner and chef of Ristorante Villa Golini. He gives us a cooking demonstration, explaining how to make risotto (with nettles), roasted potatoes, steak with herbs, and veal with herbs. All of his herbs are so fresh and aromatic! We enjoy the local white wine in the outdoor garden. Colleen, Marcello and I have fun laughing and talking about everything under the sun.

We then go inside and sit at our table. As Nicola finishes each course (which we saw him start) his wife takes Colleen and I back into the kitchen to watch the final steps. His sister and brother-in-law also work in the kitchen. A real family affair. All of the dishes were sumptuous, the steak was so flavorful and the best roasted potatoes ever. For dessert, strawberries. Perfetto!

Another fun and food filled day comes to an end. While we enjoy the cooking classes and churches,(and eating) the most fun is driving in the car with Marcello. He keeps us laughing, especially his reaction to the “idiots” driving. We hear a few “vaffanculo’s!”

We’re getting a little sad because tomorrow is our last day with our new friend. Colleen and I feel so blessed to be alone with Marcello on our tour. We really lucked out!!

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Bascilica di San Vitale
 
#12
Day 12, May 8th. Our Italian Spa Experience and THE BEST MEAL EVER!

Colleen and I have a leisurely morning, we are picked up by Marcello at 10:30am. We both grab a “complimentary” newspaper for our friend! He is so funny! We’re all a little bit sad because we know that today is our last full day together.

As part of our Food Lover’s Tour today we arrive at Oasi, a private luxury spa (Via Ravegnana 407) in Forli. We’re each going to enjoy a “relaxing massage and hydro-massage”. Frankly, I’m a wee bit apprehensive about the whole idea. I loves me a good massage, but I have NO idea what to expect having one in Italy. You would never in a million years know that a luxury spa was in this building. It’s located in a “strip mall”, next to a Toys’R Us type store. Reminds me of an industrial park we have here in the Boston area.

The place is lovely and, of course, everyone knows Marcello! Looking back I think it would have been nice if Rafaella were with us too. My massage therapist, Barbara, was very professional and very personable. My treatment room was huge! Very modern and spotless. Barbara doesn’t speak very much English, and my Italian “spa-massage” vocabulary pretty much non-existent. Between playing charades and my dictionary, I gather she wants me to undress COMPLETELY and put on a panty liner girlie-bit cover. I am hysterical laughing at this point. I kept pointing to this itty bitty crotch cover up and then pointing to my “self” and nodding my head as if to say “Seriously Barbara, you want ME to wear THIS”?????!!!!! I’m not a petite little slender woman by any means. She left the room and I looked for hidden cameras.

The massage itself was very nice and, (mostly) relaxing, but I’m used to having a sheet over my bum (at least) and there was nothing except me and my itsy bitsy paper thong!

After the massage she had to help me get my fat ass off the table and then I “hopped” into the hydro-massage bathtub! Pamela turned on the jets and I felt like I was inside of a huge blender, oh my God, there were a dozen or more massage whirlpool jets coming at me from all different directions! Barbara came back in about 10 minutes and “bless her heart” helped me out and wrapped me up into a comfy terry robe.

I looked at myself in the mirror and was happy to see that my face was glowing and looked, well, healthy and pretty. I wish I knew what products she used for my facial.

I met up with Colleen and Marcello and we walked over to the Spa’s ristorante. Colleen and I compared massage notes and laughed at our experience. Marcello ordered a bottle of prosecco and we ordered a “light” lunch, knowing that this evening we were going to have a fabulous “last” supper! I enjoyed very much my ravioli with butter, spinach and sage. The flavors popped in my mouth! I drank a lot of prosecco, hoping the buzz would help me forget all about my panty liner experience.

For some reason, in my journal, I have another Marcello quote: "Mai dira mai” Never say never. Why I wrote that, I’ll never know.

On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at the Mail Boxes Etc. on Via Amendola 2/A in Bologna. We each mailed a box of dirty clothes back home; we needed room for all of our purchases! One box “4.5 Peso Kg”, express cost €71.00. Mailed on Friday, received on Wednesday. Not bad and well worth the money!

We had the afternoon free until Marcello picked us up at 6:15pm. Colleen and I managed to find a beautiful store, which sold handcrafted items from Bologna artists and artists from surrounding areas of Emilia Romagna. The name of the store is ArtigianArte, Torre degli Asinelli, Strada Maggiore 2. Colleen was looking specifically for a “watercolor” painting for her collection, but no one seemed to understand exactly what she wanted. There were no local artists/painters around Bologna like there are in Florence (in front of Pitti Palace). Colleen did manage to find what she was looking for while I was back in my room. AND, because she is the best roommate and travel buddy EVER, she also bought a beautiful Bologna scene for me!! Love her!

We both gussied up for our farewell gala dinner at San Domenico Ristorante in Imola. Marcello and Rafaella have known the chef Valentino and his brother (the manager) Natale since they were young children. I believe Rafaella and Valentino were in elementary school together! San Domenico opened in 1970. In 2007 it received a two star Michelin rating. Valentino is famous worldwide and is considered one of the best chefs in the world. Colleen and I will drink to that!!

We were treated like royalty! Our waiter, Matteo, was adorable and the young ladies serving our “courses” were top notch. We were treated to the “tasting menu”, we sat there and the food kept on coming! To start we had a bottle of 2005 Verona Spumonte. The china was gorgeous (of course I peeked at the bottom and it was Italian “BEEK”). The butter was stamped with San Domenico and its “crest.” Snazzy. We were amazed at the different courses. In reading my notes, we had (among other things), mozzarella emulsion, Parmesan biscuits served in a cold tomato soup, a “series of amuse”, including salmon, deep fried olives and eggplant. One of my favorites was eggs mollet and crispy white asparagus. This is the description from their website: “Uovo mollet in crosta di pane bianco con schiacciata di patate e crema acida al caviale Imperiale.” It was amazing!!!! With this we drank 2004 Cicinis Collio bianco. Then came the caramelized cauliflower which we agreed was one of the best things we’d ever eaten in our entire lives!

Then came the gnocchi with lobster ragu. Yum. We were now enjoying a bottle of A Matilde, which is 80% barbera and 20% pinot noir. After agreeing that elastic waist bands are the way to go, we enjoyed fillet of lamb in a green pepper sauce.

For “pre-dessert” (yes, you read that correctly). Dessert before dessert. How utterly sinful is that?!! We had crispy almond brittle cookies, candied sugared orange peel, and a few other “petite” servings of delicious-ness. The finale, chocolate and more chocolate desserts, beautifully displayed and artistic. Colleen’s plate was a mix of vanilla and strawberry delights. For digestivo we sipped on a glass of 2005 Dulcis Vino Liquoroso.

During the course of the evening, there was the most gorgeous couple sitting across from us. At first we thought mother and son, but then I said “No mother looks at her son THAT way.” We figured “cougar” and young second husband. Regardless, she was so beautiful and he was very handsome. They were gazing at each other in a very romantic and sexy manner! I caught a photo of them through my glass of wine. Sneaky Pokey. When we left, we went to get a photo with our waiter Matteo and the the young handsome dude offered to take our photo and was very kind and they seemed genuinely happy to take our photo.

To end our evening, Marcello took us downstairs to the enormous wine cellar. There must have been over 10,000 bottles of wine, including bottles from Napoleon’s time! The bottles were labeled by year but I couldn’t find 1954, the closest I saw was 1957. Our meal was one of the best we’d ever had in our lifetime! It was the perfect ending of a perfect tour of Emilia Romagna with our friend Marcello.

We said buona notte to Marcello as he dropped us off at our hotel. We would see him on Sunday. Included in our tour was transportation to either the airport or train station on our last day.

We went to bed with full tummies and memories of a phenomenal meal.

1661-12-San_domenico.jpg

Ristorante San Domenico
 
#13
Day 13, May 9th. Ferrara and (Sadly) My Worst Dining Experience in Italy. Ever.

We took the train to Ferrara today. It had been recommended by quite a few Slow Traveler’s as a charming medieval town. We loved seeing people of all ages riding on the bicycles. In Ferrara, there are more bicycles than people!! We visited The Basilica Cattedrale di San Giorgio. It is dedicated to Saint George, the patron saint of Ferrara. I loved the bright colored bows which were attached to the pews.

We walked around some of the defense walls: More than 9km of defensive walls dating to the 15th and 16th centuries wrap themselves around old Ferrara. In 1999, Unesco declared the city and some parts of the surrounding Po delta area, a World Heritage Site, citing in particular Farrara's almost perfectly preserved Renaissance streets and quarters.

We found the Jewish Quarter but (being directionally challenged) got all turned around trying to find the old synagogue. Evidently we walked past it a few times but didn’t know that we had. Duh. Never hire us as your personal guides.

We loved our lunch at Al Brindisi (recommended by Jim Zurer). We both loved the Tortelloni di Zucca. Excellent!! I highly recommend this place. Be forewarned, their bathroom is the stand up model. I took one look and knew there was no way my thigh muscles would let me hover over and do what I needed to do. My squatting days are over.

We found George Clooney in a store window selling watches. Walked around Castello Estense de Ferrara: The former stronghold of the ruling Este family, this medieval castle with a moat dominates Ferrara's old town much as it did when this was the center of the area's power and prestige. (thank you cellartours.com for that info)!

We asked a very handsome police man where we might get a taxi and he radioed in a request and in a few minutes we had a taxi! The train station is quite a ways from the historic center of Ferrara. We’re glad that Marcello pointed this out to us!

The train we took back to Bologna was a sloooooowwwwww train. It was skanky and smelly. Our tickets were €3.80 each way.

Tonight we were having dinner with fellow Slowtraveler’s Colleen C and her husband Jim. They had arrived in Bologna that day. Colleen and I left early so we could sit outside at RosaRose bistrot and enjoy an aperitif. The gentleman sitting next to me was drinking a pretty orange cocktail so that’s what I ordered. Not sure what it was called but it was refreshing and tasty.(perhaps another Campari). We spotted Colleen C. and Jim and they came over to our table while we finished our drinks.

Colleenk had researched places to eat in Bologna and we decided on Trattoria da Gianni for our last meal together on this wonderful trip. From the moment we walked in (we had reservations) we were treated like second class citizens. Our waiter was so rude and impatient. I have yet to write a review, but I would never recommend this place to anyone. The food was so-so, but the service was deplorable. It made me sad because we wanted to have a fun and great meal with our new friends from SlowTrav. I will add here, though, that Colleen C and Jim are a fun couple and it was great meeting them. Funnier even still, “my” Colleen’s husband is also “Jim” and Colleen C has a sister named Mindy!!

We said our goodbyes and went back to the hotel to finish packing as we were both leaving the next day. Colleen had to leave early for the train station on Sunday morning. I wouldn’t see her again so we had a huge hug-fest and said how much fun we had together on this trip. She is an excellent traveling companion and I would go to Italy with her again in a New York minute!

1661-13-Ferrara_train.jpg

Ferrara Train
 
#14
Sunday May 10th, Ciao ciao to Italy

I didn't have to meet Marcello until noon, so I had a relaxing morning, saying good bye to the delightful staff at our hotel. Marcello was right on time and drove me to the Bologna airport. I had a few hours to wait, but better early than late. It was sad saying goodbye to my new friend Marcello. He loved saying "cheeky cheeky" and rubbing my face, so it was sad to have him do this one last time. We hugged and he went off to get ready for his next tour group. I'm sure that Colleen and I are his most favorite clients!

My flight to Frankfurt was uneventful. I had read that it was a nightmare going through passport control, but I had no problems. The bus, which met our flight from Bologna, took us to an upper level. I had to find my way to "Gates A" which was quite a walk, I headed down three flights of stairs only to take an elevator up three flights. The elevator was clearly marked for me to find GATES A. Passport check was empty. Seriously, I thought I was in the wrong area because I was the ONLY person there. The happy German checked my passport and I was at my gate within minutes. I arrived at 4:40pm and was at my gate for Boston at 4:55pm. Not bad!!

My Lufthansa flight was great. The crew was so nice!! Going through customs at Logan was not too painful. Once they grilled me about what I did or didn't bring back with me, I was waved right through customs and called for my cab. When I went outside to wait, a slew of State Troopers and SUV's came screeching up to the Terminal entrance. I thought they were there to welcome me home, but noooooo, it was the King of Sweden. He was in Boston and was leaving that night.

I loved my time in Italy! Traveling on my own for a few days in Florence was great. I was thrilled to bits, however, to experience Emilia Romagna with my good friend Colleen. Who knew that a dinner together in the North End last September would result in our excellent time together on our Food Lover's Gastronomic Tour! Laughing, eating, drinking and shopping.

I had to post this "breast" photo for my last page. I was able to go on this great trip because of a per diem mammo job I started last summer. Every extra $$$ went into my Italy travel fund. I do what I have to in order to get back to Italy every year! I am now adding to my Italy 2010 fund with my "mammo" money.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I had writing it!!

Resources

1661-14-Boob_fountain_Bologna.jpg

Mammo fountain-Bologna
 
#15
Al Brindisi - Good enough for Copernicus, Good enough for us! Yes there is history, but it still remains a cosy and charming place for a glass or wine and/or rustic bite to eat.
 

Barb Cabot

10+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
#16
Sunday May 10th, Ciao ciao to Italy

I didn't have to meet Marcello until noon, so I had a relaxing morning, saying good bye to the delightful staff at our hotel. Marcello was right on time and drove me to the Bologna airport. I had a few hours to wait, but better early than late. It was sad saying goodbye to my new friend Marcello. He loved saying "cheeky cheeky" and rubbing my face, so it was sad to have him do this one last time. We hugged and he went off to get ready for his next tour group. I'm sure that Colleen and I are his most favorite clients!

My flight to Frankfurt was uneventful. I had read that it was a nightmare going through passport control, but I had no problems. The bus, which met our flight from Bologna, took us to an upper level. I had to find my way to "Gates A" which was quite a walk, I headed down three flights of stairs only to take an elevator up three flights. The elevator was clearly marked for me to find GATES A. Passport check was empty. Seriously, I thought I was in the wrong area because I was the ONLY person there. The happy German checked my passport and I was at my gate within minutes. I arrived at 4:40pm and was at my gate for Boston at 4:55pm. Not bad!!

My Lufthansa flight was great. The crew was so nice!! Going through customs at Logan was not too painful. Once they grilled me about what I did or didn't bring back with me, I was waved right through customs and called for my cab. When I went outside to wait, a slew of State Troopers and SUV's came screeching up to the Terminal entrance. I thought they were there to welcome me home, but noooooo, it was the King of Sweden. He was in Boston and was leaving that night.

I loved my time in Italy! Traveling on my own for a few days in Florence was great. I was thrilled to bits, however, to experience Emilia Romagna with my good friend Colleen. Who knew that a dinner together in the North End last September would result in our excellent time together on our Food Lover's Gastronomic Tour! Laughing, eating, drinking and shopping.

I had to post this "breast" photo for my last page. I was able to go on this great trip because of a per diem mammo job I started last summer. Every extra $$$ went into my Italy travel fund. I do what I have to in order to get back to Italy every year! I am now adding to my Italy 2010 fund with my "mammo" money.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I had writing it!!

Resources

View attachment 18754
Mammo fountain-Bologna
Fantastic trip report full of great information. Mindy I'd love to read your trip report for your stay at Chianti Cashmere. Can that still be found? Love how detailed your notes are. I hope to take Mike to Panzano this summer while we are in Florence with the kids. I have taken the Sita bus to Siena so I think I can manage Panzano. Love the way you write. Your sense of humor is a real treat and you write like you speak so it's like I'm sitting with you having a great time listening to your trip report. Grazie Mille.
 
#17
Fantastic trip report full of great information. Mindy I'd love to read your trip report for your stay at Chianti Cashmere. Can that still be found? Love how detailed your notes are. I hope to take Mike to Panzano this summer while we are in Florence with the kids. I have taken the Sita bus to Siena so I think I can manage Panzano. Love the way you write. Your sense of humor is a real treat and you write like you speak so it's like I'm sitting with you having a great time listening to your trip report. Grazie Mille.
Barb, I stayed at Chianti Cashmere in 2004. I didn't do a specific report. sorry!
 

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